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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Kaminoge's Most Excellent Bavarian Adventure, Part III: Dachau and Schleissheim

Auschwitz. Buchenwald. Bergen-Belsen. Ravensbrück. Treblinka. Dachau. All notorious names from history, chilling examples of humanity at its worst. Germany today is a democratic, prosperous society, but the terrible past is never far away. Dachau is a mere 16 kilometers (9.9 miles) northwest of central Munich. It was the first of the Nazis' extensive network of concentration camps, and was built in March 1933 under the direction of Heinrich Himmler as an incarceration facility for political prisoners. Over time, Jews, ordinary criminals and foreign nationals from invaded or occupied countries were sent to Dachau, with over 200,000 being "processed" there. The main camp was eventually augmented by up to 100 sub-camps located in southern Germany and Austria, with all of them liberated by American troops at the end of April 1945. The number of deaths at Dachau has been estimated at between 30,000 and 43,000. 

Although the KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau (Dachau Memorial Site) can easily be visited by a combination of S-Train and bus from Munich's center, we chose to go by rental car, as we planned to do some exploring on Tuesday and Wednesday. We picked up our rented Opal from the Hertz office located in Munich's Hauptbahnhof central station and made the short drive from there to Dachau:

The compound is accessed by passing through the Jourhaus, the camp's original entrance...:

...where you are greeted by a wrought-iron gate bearing the most chilling words in the German language, Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Sets You Free):  

The three of us began our tour in the bunker, the part of the prison where inmates were kept in cramped "standing cells"and then tortured:

The prison yard was where executions took place, either by bullet or noose:

The museum is a disturbing, exhaustive examination of the history of  the Dachau facility, from its start as a prison for criminals, leftists and religious dissidents to its transformation into an overcrowded concentration camp, the inmates of which were suffering greatly from outbreaks of typhus up to the moment of liberation. The displays also cover the concentration camp system in general, as well as the rise of Nazism in Germany. Charts, documents, photographs, uniforms and everyday objects belonging to guards and inmates provide an extremely disturbing portrayal of what fate had in store for those the Nazis despised - Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Poles, Roma, leftists and Soviet POW's, among many others, some of whom were subject to horrifying "scientific experiments" conducted by Nazi doctors. Amber and Shu-E preferred not to look at most of the displays; with the exception of the photo below and one other, I didn't take any pictures inside the museum. I was uncomfortable with the idea of doing so, preferring instead to let the exhibits tell their harrowing stories:

The one other photo I did take inside the museum was of inmates celebrating their liberation on April 29, 1945:

Following the museum, we walked through some of the recreated barracks:

Most of the original buildings are gone, but visitors can still get an idea of the sheer scale of the concentration camp:

In the northwestern corner of the camp, near a series of useless religious shrines (where was God when the inmates needed it?), stands the crematorium and gas chamber, the latter which was apparently never used:

"May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men": 

One final look at the sprawling former roll-call square:

Visiting Dachau is a sobering experience, to say the least. Following lunch at the visitors' center, we decided to end the afternoon on a cheerier note, by driving to the nearby Munich suburb of Schleissheim, home to three palaces, the Altes Schloss Schleissheim (pictured below); the Neues Schloss Schleissheim (New Palace); and almost a kilometer away at the opposite end of Schlosspark, the hunting palace of Schloss Lustheim:

As it was already the middle of the afternoon, we decided to visit only the crown jewel of the trio, the Neues Schloss Schleissheim. The palace was the idea of Prince-Elector Max Emanuel in 1701 in the expectation that he would eventually become Holy Roman Emperor. Instead, he ended up being exiled for over a decade before coming home in 1715. Supposedly financial difficulties prevented the palace from being completed according to the original construction plans, but the building is still huge (the facade being 330 meters/1083 feet in length) and opulent, as a good palace should:

Even though the exterior of the palace provides a good idea of what to expect, the interior is still stunning in its sheer scale:

Highlights of the palace include the ceremonial staircase...:

...the Victory Hall...:

...and the Grand Gallery: 

Period furniture is on display:

Looking toward the distant Schloss Lustheim from one of the upstairs windows of the New Palace:

The palace houses a selection of European baroque art in the Staatsgalerie (State Gallery), including works by Peter Paul Rubens...:

...and Anthony Van Dyck:

The elector's four-poster bed:

A stunning ceiling fresco by Cosmas Damian Asam

Looking toward the Altes Schloss Schleissheim from an upstairs window:

Back down the ceremonial staircase and toward the exit:

Amber was much more upbeat after seeing Neues Schloss Schleissheim, following the earlier, somber visit to Dachau:

While the girls took a break from the warm Bavarian sun, your humble scribe took a walk through part of the expansive grounds of Schlosspark:

Facing Schloss Lustheim:

Walking back toward Neues Schloss Schleissheim:

We returned to Munich, experiencing a bit of the city's rush-hour traffic, which included long waits at a couple of railroad crossings, and parked our car overnight at our hotel. Dinner that evening was far from healthy, but it was relaxing as we wound ourselves down at an outdoor restaurant:

I would've liked to have seen more, but Dachau would be the only Nazi-related sight that we would visit on this trip. There were two reasons for this. The first is simple: my daughter is only ten. In the short time that we've been in Lithuania, she's already visited the site of the Ponary massacre, as well as the Museum of Genocide Victims, housed in the former headquarters of the KGB in Vilnius. She's handled both these sites, plus Dachau, well, but one's childhood shouldn't be taken up too much with pondering the nature of the worst crimes ever committed against human rights. 

The other reason is more complex. The median age in Germany is 46, meaning most Germans today weren't around when the Nazis were in charge. The country has made great strides since that time, establishing an open society in a stable, democratic state. More importantly, Germany has arguably done more than any other country to create a semi-unified Europe, a region of open borders, common markets and a shared stake in the future of the continent (aspirations shared by the youth of Britain, at least, judging by the Brexit poll numbers). Modern Germany is not the same country that put Adolf Hitler in power 83 years ago and created the conditions that led to the Holocaust. While the past should never be forgotten (and it was reassuring to see groups of German teenagers visiting Dachau the day we were there, presumably on school trips), it isn't fair to constantly remind the people of Germany today of the crimes committed by their grandparents and great-grandparents. So, yes, do visit some Nazi-related sights should you travel to Germany and make sure your children are aware of an awful past that should never, ever be repeated. But at the same time, broaden your historical excursions to include the magnificent castles and palaces, and don't forget to celebrate all that modern Germany has accomplished since 1945. And if you fear the rise of right-wing extremism, you might want to take a long, hard look in your own society first.










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